This month’s Case Study Spotlight is with Steve Traxler, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist. The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Steve was the Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative Science Coordinator for 7 years, and worked on Everglades restoration for 22 years. He earned a Master’s degree in Fisheries at Texas A&M University, and a Bachelor’s degree at Florida Institute of Technology.
The Institute for Landscape Conservation Design (i4LCD) promotes practitioners with diverse experiences in landscape conservation design: we share their stories and highlight their project work. Would you like to be considered for a case study spotlight? Contact us at: email@example.com. Include “Case Study Spotlight” in the Subject line, and provide a short summary of your past or ongoing LCD project.
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i4LCD: Introduce yourself to our readers, Steve?
Steve: I am a recent retiree. I worked for 24 years in the field of conservation planning and ecology, primarily in the southeast U.S. and Florida. I spent 8 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and 16 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Most of that work was related to planning for restoration of the Everglades, and then later, working on the adaptive management part of the project. From 2008 to present I was involved with scenario planning, and in 2011, became one of the Science Coordinators for the Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative (PFLCC). As Science Coordinator, I engaged a diverse set of stakeholders in developing landscape-level science for the State of Florida, focusing on landscape conservation design and target setting. I currently work with a marine conservation nonprofit: InWater Research Group, Inc. which specializes in sea turtle demographics.
i4LCD: What first interested you in your field of expertise?
Steve: I spent the first part of my career developing the Everglades restoration plan and its adaptive management program. Everglades restoration involved a diverse set of stakeholders that came together for the largest restoration project of its time. South Florida had multiple problems that needed to be considered as part of the plan, so an active stakeholder participation process was developed. The principles of adaptive management were incorporated into the project to help with the project’s high degree of uncertainty.
Seven years ago, I started working with the PFLCC. After working on the Everglades project for many years, I gravitated to the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) and started working with a steering committee composed of a diverse set of stakeholders that had an interest in on-the-ground restoration in Florida. Florida has had a 30-year history of statewide science where we know what and where to conserve, but the PFLCC was developing a landscape-level design consisting of clear targets and strategies for on-the-ground restoration. For me, working with the LCCs was the holy grail of conservation and the best job I ever had by far.
i4LCD: Do you have any experience convening stakeholders specifically as it relates to landscape conservation design (LCD)?
Steve: In 2007, the federal government started engaging in climate change discussions again. I was able to work with USFWS and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) managers in south Florida to fund a couple of scenario planners/landscape architects out of MIT to develop stakeholder-based multi-parameter conservation scenarios for south Florida. MIT professors, Dr Michael Flaxman and Juan Carlos Vargas, were experts in developing stakeholder-based scenarios. Through a series of convening workshops and focus meetings, stakeholders helped develop the south Florida scenarios which explored climate change, conservation policy assumptions, population growth, and conservation funding. In 2011, these scenarios were expanded to the PFLCC boundary. Scenarios covering the whole state were used to look at questions pertaining to conservation easements and fee title purchase of lands and waters as a strategy to combat climate change.
i4LCD: Generally speaking, who were the stakeholders you convened? Were they from a single institution or multiple institutions?
Steve: The 200+ stakeholders we convened represented various federal/state government agencies, non-government organizations, universities, and private entities from a large pool of sectors that influence conservation. Methods such as influence diagrams were used to determine additional stakeholders.
i4LCD: What were the stakeholders’ interests in LCD? What “value added” did they believe existed, or could potentially exist, as a result of their participation in LCD?
Steve: The statewide scenarios became part of the design process for the PFLCC steering committee. They helped facilitate conversations about various conservation strategies. We used a number of convening workshops over the last 2-3 years to help develop clear conservation targets and to link to the Florida State Wildlife Action Plan. The stakeholders were very interested in the application of the strategies to on-the-ground conservation. The other important part of the convening workshops were the focused conversations that occurred about the various stages of LCD. The scenarios that we developed combine with the conservation target workshops helped facilitate those conversations.
i4LCD: From a coordinating professional’s perspective, and if different from the stakeholders’ perspective above, can you speak to the importance of convening stakeholders and the “value added” that can result from broad stakeholder participation in LCD?
Steve: Broad stakeholder participation can add time to a project on the front end, but should create a more accepted and supported project on the back end. By incorporating input from a wide variety of stakeholders and creating a LCD with that input, can result in a vision that is more likely to be realized.
i4LCD: What is the purpose of convening stakeholders?
Steve: Convening is a critical part of LCD. It’s not a one and done process, but rather, should be done throughout LCD. This is the part of LCD where stakeholders meet and learn about each others interests; and equally as important, where champions for the design are developed and/or found. Being able to convene diverse stakeholders in a social setting where they they can be heard and participate in developing objectives and a vision for the landscape sets the stage for the LCD outcome. Using a wide variety of techniques in convening stakeholders through each LCD step, especially during the strategy development portion of the process, can help create opportunities for stakeholders to initiate and complete the LCD, facilitate on the ground action, and improve on the ground conservation success.
Conservation planning has been working for years, and in many places has yielded great results, but now we have additional and stronger stressors. In my home state of Florida, we have about 33% of the state in some type of conservation status. However, the state’s population is growing at a rate of 1,100 people per day, and increased temperature and sea level rise are causing issues all over the state. As I write this blog, I am unable to leave my condo because of a red tide caused from too many people and sprawling developments combined with increased temperatures, sea level rise, and poor water management. The red tide covers most of south Florida and is killing thousands of fish, as well as sea turtles, manatees, and dolphins. When I walk outside I immediately start coughing and my throat and eyes burn. Very few people are outside and most are wearing masks. All of the beaches in my area are closed. The odds of the red tide occurring, could have been greatly reduced or eliminated if the Everglades restoration had been completed over the past 18 years (the project was authorized in 2000).
i4LCD: Stakeholders are busy people. What processes/techniques do you use to keep them focused, engaged and actively participating in the project over the long haul?
Steve: There are a number of techniques both to determine who the stakeholders are (e.g., influence diagrams) and how to keep stakeholders active and involved. Projects with long timelines (i.e., 5+ years) need methods to continue to educate, as well as include, new and old participants. Well designed meetings with outcomes and decisions are critical to keeping people engaged. Burnout and turnover are common and multi-media and face to face participation workshops are needed to educate and continue to convene. Social media and websites are important for keeping stakeholders up to date, but face to face interactions are incredibly important to develop trust. Again, developing and identifying project champions (i.e., local-level advocates) is critically important for long term success. So is identifying clear objectives and outcomes for the project. In the projects I’ve been involved in, having a core team of 5-7 individuals to do most of the heavy lifting is critical to success.
i4LCD: What specific products do stakeholders develop, particularly early in the design process, that guide the rest of the LCD?
Steve: I already mentioned the importance of establishing clear objectives, outcomes, and a unified vision. Additionally, measurable targets are important. Targets need to cover a wide range of stakeholder interests. The South Atlantic Blueprint developed by the South Atlantic LCC has an annual report card which gives realistic scores from A-F of a number of targets covering the important aspects of their design. Stakeholders can review these targets and implement and develop strategies which can increase their score in future years. One other really important part of the SALCC Blueprint is that the team has members whose primary job is to train and work with stakeholders on how to use the blueprint and the multitude of tools associated with the blueprint. That critical aspect of that team helps make the various steps of the LCD an iterative process, more functional, and helps to keep stakeholders engaged.
i4LCD: What inspires you and gives you hope for the future?
Steve: Currently, three things inspire me. The first is my colleagues and their amazing work ethic. Many of the people that I have meet through the LCCs are true visionaries and some of the best people I ever worked with. The second thing that inspires me is my fellow Floridians. In 2014, voters passed The Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1 which generates roughly $900 million per year! Between Amendment 1 funding and RESTORE Act funding, Florida has never seen more conservation dollars at work in the state. Lastly, I am inspired by my grandchildren. My wife Debbie and I have 7 grandkids (ages 2 thru 17). Watching them grow up, listening to what they think and what motivates them has given me hope for the future. From my perspective the reason LCD is so important can be summed up in the American Indian passage: “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.”
i4LCD: Do you have any final thoughts to share?
Steve: Dream big! We live in confusing times with lots of distractions. LCD, and especially the convening aspect of it, give us an opportunity to work with partners and stakeholders from a wide variety of backgrounds and talents. Being able to bring together different skill sets and creating a vision of the future is extremely important. With the very recent climate change targets being released and with the human population skyrocketing, conservation has never been more important. The lands that we protect and preserve will be the lands of the future critical for human life on earth.
Get outside! It’s easy to get lost in the minutia associated with work. Go out and visit a place or habitat you have never been to. Rather than Googling pictures of it actually go out and feel it with all of your senses. One of my favorite colleagues to work with, during his workshops would always include a half or whole day to go and do something incredible. My favorite was seeing 2-3% of the whooping crane population. It was an amazing experience and that made that workshop extremely memorable, out of the hundreds of workshops/meeting I attended in my career. I can still describe what the objectives, and results, of the workshop were.
Lastly, exercise your right to vote and have your voice heard!